Lose Your American Appetite for War: “Disclaimer” at Under the Radar 2021

Ahmadinejad in the stage version of “Disclaimer.” Photography by Maria Baranova.

Presented by the The Public Theater 
The Under the Radar Festival
Written by Tara Ahmadinejad
Created by Piehole
Co-directed by Tara Ahmadinejad and Jeff Wood
Dramaturgy by Heidi Davis
Performed by Tara Ahmadinejad with Hassan Nazari-Robati with special guests
Other credits

January 11 – January 17, 2021
Via the Public Theater YouTube channel
Public Theater on Facebook

My sincere apologies to The Public and to Piehole for this review’s tardiness. Personal tragedy prevented me from completing my review in a timely manner. 

Review by Kitty Drexel

Disclaimer: This LIVE in-Zoom event contains propaganda, vague promises of Persian food, minimally invasive audience participation, and (gasp) MURDER.

ZOOM — Piehole’s Disclaimer is a new work only in that it has never been performed over Zoom. It lived onstage last year for the 2020 Under the Radar Festival in New York City. It was workshopped in 2019.

Disclaimer is a live-cooking tutorial over Zoom. Chef Nargis (Tara Ahmadinejad) and Sous chef “juuls are cuul” Hassan (Hassan Nazari-Robati) teach their audience to make Sabzi Polo, a yummy sounding Iranian rice dish made with butter, dried fenugreek leaves, garlic, saffron, and other ingredients. Our chef tells us about Iranian family life, culture, and plunges down a rabbithole of Iranian/US politics as she cooks. 

The cooking doesn’t go as intended. Chef Nargis is distracted by the state of Iran’s tenuous relationship with the US despite Hassan’s gentle yet insistent redirecting back to the recipe. Nargis is worried that the US will go to war with Iran. It is never the politicians who make war who suffer. No, it is the people of the land who pay the price when demagogues play King

Nargis is compelled to humanize the Iranian people to us. She introduces us to her family. Volunteers from the audience in various stages of shock fill in for her uncles and aunties, cousins, nephews and friends. Nargis takes us through a typical, large, Iranian family gathering. She goes back to the recipe. 

Meanwhile, Hassan shows us cookies. He chopped parsley under the Parsley Cam. He’s prepared a delicious snack that only took him all day. Nargis eats a Nutrigrain Bar over the counter (her Bagel Bites died). Iranians, they’re just like us! They are so much like us that we are caught completely unaware by the murder. Chef Nargis dons a trenchcoat and investigates. 

The principal character of Chef Nargis is overwhelming in her desperation to communicate Iranian humanity. She is anal retentive, obsessive, intense, and emotionally drained by her need to express the value of her people’s continued existence. She shouldn’t have to. People are deserving of dignity and respect because they need it, not because they deserve it. But, such is the state of our world that Nargis feels she must. In the US, Different = Other = Bad.  

As a fellow human going through a personally traumatic experience involving my family above and beyond the pandemic we share right now, I empathize with Nargis/actor Tara Ahmadinejad. To repeatedly entreat strangers to see one’s own inherent personhood as equal to theirs is demoralizing. It rips the heart wide open; you bleed the poetic blood of your ancestry onto your pleading hands as others police your tone for its ferocity. It blows my mind that Ahmadinejad kept herself so calm. She’s not teaching us a recipe; she’s trying to prevent genocide.  

Ahmadinejad as Chef Nargis

Vague references to personal trauma aside, Disclaimer is fun. I found myself gleefully laughing more often than I did nervously frowning. The back and forth between Ahmadinejad and Nazari-Robati is great. Ahmadinejad sets up the joke and Nazari-Robati responds to it with great timing. He has no verbal lines but everything we need to know about him is written on his pliant, expressive face. 

The mystery/noir section of Disclaimer is brilliantly amusing. Audience members should pay close attention through the first half of the show for visual cues. There is some puppetry work with cookies that will tickle any sense of humor. 

Disclaimer doesn’t fit the definition of most theatrical Zoom productions. It veers wildly from the expected into the unexpected and back again. Although it is political, it is not about politics. It’s about the personal. Let Disclaimer be personal. It should get under your skin. It got under mine.  

Update 01/14/2021: Sous Chef Hassan was previously credited to the incorrect actor.  The role is played by Hassan Nazari-Robati. 

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